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(a) Whenever it is alleged in writing and under oath by any person, to be referred to as the complainant, that another person, to be referred to as the respondent, has engaged in or is engaging in unlawful discriminatory housing practices, or upon its own resolution and initiative when the Fair Housing Commission has information in its possession relating to the existence of unlawful discriminatory housing practices as defined in Section 515.02, the Commission shall initiate a preliminary investigation of the alleged unlawful discriminatory housing practice or practices. The complaint of housing discrimination shall be in writing, under oath, upon such form as may be prescribed by the Commission and shall be brought and filed by the complainant with the Commission within one (1) year of the occurrence of the alleged acts of housing discrimination. Likewise, initiation of any complaint by resolution of the Commission itself shall also be brought and filed within one (1) year of the occurrence of the alleged acts of housing discrimination.
(b) Upon the filing of a complaint of unlawful housing discrimination, the Commission shall cause notice to be served upon the aggrieved person acknowledging such filing and advising the aggrieved person of the time limits and choice of forums provided under this Fair Housing Code. Further, the Commission shall not later than ten (10) days after the filing of such complaint or the identification of an additional respondent, serve upon each respondent:
(1) A notice describing and identifying the alleged discriminatory housing practice and advising each respondent of the procedural rights and obligations of a respondent under this chapter; and
(2) A copy of the original complaint.
Each respondent may file, not later than ten (10) days after receipt of notice of the complaint, an answer to such complaint.
(c) The Commission, upon the filing of a complaint by any person or upon the initiation of a complaint by the Commission itself, shall commence the investigation of the allegations set forth in the complaint within thirty (30) days of the filing of the complaint. The Commission shall complete such investigation within one hundred (100) days after receipt of the complaint, unless there are circumstances making completion within such one hundred (100) day time frame impracticable, in which case the Commission shall inform both the complainant and respondent in writing of the reasons why the investigation cannot be completed within the usual prescribed time frame.
If in the course of the investigation additional parties are identified who were not named as respondents in the initial complaint, but who should have been named as respondents, the Commission may join such parties as additional or substitute respondents upon written notice given to such parties in the manner as specified in subsection (b) hereinabove, which notice in addition to meeting the requirements of subsection (b), shall explain the basis for the Commission's belief that the person to whom the notice is addressed is properly joined as a respondent.
(d) During the period beginning with the filing of the complaint and ending with the filing of a charge or a dismissal by the Commission, the Commission shall, to the extent feasible, engage in conciliation with respect to such complaint. Any conciliation agreement reached as a result of the conciliation process shall be entered into as an agreement between the respondent, complainant and Commission, and shall be subject to approval by the Commission. A conciliation agreement may provide for binding arbitration of the dispute arising from the complaint; and any such arbitration that results from a conciliation agreement may award appropriate relief, including monetary relief. Every conciliation agreement shall be made public unless the complainant and respondent otherwise agree and the Commission determines pursuant to State law that disclosure is not required to further the purposes of this chapter. Nothing said or done in the course of conciliation may be made public or used as evidence in a subsequent proceeding under this chapter without the written consent of the persons concerned.
(1) After completion of the Commission's investigation, the Commission shall make available to the aggrieved person and to the respondents, at any time, information derived from the investigation and any final investigation report relating to that investigation.
(2) At the end of each investigation under this section, the Counselor shall prepare a final investigative report containing:
A. The names and dates of contact with witnesses;
B. A summary and the dates of correspondence and other contacts with the aggrieved person and the respondent;
C. A summary description of other pertinent records;
D. A summary of witness statements; and
E. Answers to interrogatories.
(e) If after completion of the investigation it is determined by the Commission that it is not probable that an unlawful discriminatory housing practice has been or is being engaged in, the Commission shall notify the complainant and the respondent of its decision and that further proceedings will not be instituted and that the case is being closed by such disposition.
(f) If the Commission, after completion of its investigation, finds that unlawful discriminatory housing practices probably have been or are being engaged in and that efforts at conciliation have failed and the Commission is unable to obtain voluntary compliance with the provisions of this chapter, the Commission shall then promptly issue and cause to be served upon the complainant and upon the respondent or respondents alleged to have been involved in the commission of the unlawful discriminatory housing practice or practices in question, a formal charge setting forth the charges in that respect and containing a notice of hearing before the Commission, a committee or subcommittee of the Commission, or before a hearing officer appointed to conduct such hearing, at any place within the boundaries of the City of Canton and at a time not later than one hundred twenty (120) days after the service of such notice. The Law Director or a member of his staff shall represent the Commission at such hearing and assist in the presentation of evidence in support of the complaint.
(g) Any complaint or charge may be amended by the Commission or the committee or hearing officer appointed to conduct the hearing at any time prior to or during the hearing. The respondent has the right to file an answer or an amended answer to the original formal charge and any amendment thereof and to appear at such hearing in person or by attorney, to examine and cross-examine witnesses and present evidence and testimony in support of respondent's position.
(h) Such charge:
(1) Shall consist of a short and plain statement of the facts upon which the Commission has found reasonable cause to believe that a discriminatory housing practice has occurred or is about to occur;
(2) Shall be based on the final investigative report; and
(3) Need not be limited to the facts or grounds alleged in the complaint filed under Section 515.08.
(i) A complainant or an aggrieved person who files a complaint with the Commission and on whose behalf the Commission has issued a formal charge, as provided by paragraph (f) of this section, or a respondent may elect, following receipt of the relevant notice as described in paragraph (f) of this section, to proceed with the administrative hearing process or to have the alleged unlawful discriminatory practices covered by the complaint addressed in a civil action as available under this Fair Housing Code. The election must be made not later than twenty (20) days after the date of receipt by the electing person of service of the charge under paragraph (f) of this section. The person making the election shall give notice of such election in writing by certified mail, return receipt requested, to the Commission and to the other parties to the pending administrative process within the twenty (20) day period provided for herein.
If a timely election is made under this subsection, the Commission shall authorize, not later than the thirtieth (30th) day after the election is made, the Law Director to file a civil action on behalf of the aggrieved person in a Common Pleas Court of the State of Ohio, seeking relief under this section. Venue for an action under this section is in the county in which the alleged unlawful discriminatory housing practice occurred. Any aggrieved person may intervene in the action. If the court finds that a discriminatory housing practice has occurred or is about to occur, the court may grant as relief any relief that a court may grant in a civil action under Section 515.10. If monetary relief is sought for the benefit of an aggrieved person who does not intervene in the civil action, the court may not award the monetary relief if that aggrieved person has not complied with discovery orders entered by the court.
(j) If no timely election is made under subsection 515.08(i) hereof, the Commission shall proceed to schedule and conduct a hearing upon the charge pending before the Commission or hearing officer.
(k) The complainant shall be a party to the proceeding and any person who is an indispensable party to a complete determination or settlement of the matters involved shall be joined. Any person who has or claims to have an interest in the subject of the hearing and in obtaining or preventing relief against the acts or practices complained of may be, in the discretion of the person or body conducting the hearing, permitted to appear for the presentation of oral or written arguments.
(l) In any proceeding the Commission, or committee or subcommittee of the Commission or hearing officer appointed to conduct the hearing shall be bound by the Federal Rules of Evidence which shall apply to the presentation of evidence in such hearing as they would in a civil action in a United States District Court, and shall, in ascertaining the practices followed by the respondent, take into account all reliable, probative and substantive evidence, statistical or otherwise, produced at the hearing, which may tend to prove the existence or nonexistence of any unlawful discriminatory housing practices.
(m) The testimony taken at the hearing contemplated by this section shall be under oath and shall be reduced to writing and filed with the Commission together with the recommended findings of fact and conclusions of law made by the committee, subcommittee or hearing officer conducting the hearing. Thereafter, at its discretion, the Commission, the committee or subcommittee of the Commission or the hearing officer conducting the hearing, upon due notice to the complainant and to the respondent with an opportunity for them to be present, may take further testimony or hear argument. No person shall be compelled to be a witness against himself at any such hearing.
(n) Whenever deemed necessary, in order to protect the rights of the complainant and to preserve the power of the Commission to act upon or to resolve a complaint, an attorney designated by the Law Director may apply to a court of competent jurisdiction for an injunction against the respondent restraining him from taking any action which would prevent the Commission from acting or which would make any order issued by the Commission meaningless or ineffective.
(Ord. 12-2020. Passed 2-3-20.)